Updated: August 12th, 2016 1:00pm
Updated: August 12th, 2016 1:00pm
By: Daniel House
By: Daniel House
Tonight, the Vikings open up the preseason against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium in Ohio. With training camp and the joint practices with the Bengals in the books, the live action starts tonight. This is an excellent time to evaluate some of the deep portions of the roster. Additionally, it will help fringe roster players bolster their resume. I provide some players to watch closely and note a few specific position groups to monitor.
For more, take a dive inside my Vikings vs. Bengals preview:
The offensive line depth
As I have explained numerous times, offensive line depth is one of my main concerns entering the season. Both Jeremiah Sirles and T.J. Clemmings had an up-and-down camp and need to show they can be consistent in the preseason. This is the first time we can evaluate either of them with full-speed game action. If they both continue to struggle, the Vikings may need to look for ways to improve the backup swing tackle spot. Last year, the second and third-team offensive line units were annihilated in the preseason and it translated into the regular season. Seeing an improvement from those groups would be very encouraging for the offensive line heading into the regular season.
Additionally, the starting center spot is still up for grabs. Joe Berger and John Sullivan are sure to rotate frequently in the middle. Berger has been getting the starting nod in practice, but Sullivan might blend into the rotation too.
Finally, the starters won't play frequently, but Matt Kalil needs to see some action. Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson will be a nice matchup for Kalil to open 2016. He needs to prove he can handle the starting role.
The offensive line rotation is still wide-open and a player like Brandon Fusco needs show he is back to 100% strength as well. The preseason is a time to find the best mix up front and that will start by rotating various players and finding the best overall contributors.
The offensive line needs to show growth, and for the most part, they did in training camp. However, translating success into production on game day is an entirely different scenario.
Treadwell makes his debut
All eyes will be on Vikings rookie wide receiver Laquon Treadwell's NFL debut. He probably won't see much action with Teddy Bridgewater and the first-team, but he will be on the field frequently with the second-team offensive unit. Treadwell has all the tools to be a great wide receiver and will need reps to put all of his attributes together. His route running and overall physical playing style make him an intriguing product in the red zone. Until he completely develops into a full-time wide receiver, Treadwell will be unleashed inside the 20-yard line to maximize his skill-set. Treadwell needs to improve his hands and familiarity in the offense. As I have said before, his work ethic is impressive and he will put in the time to be great. Tonight, he has the chance to make a big debut.
The battle at linebacker
One of the more difficult positions to evaluate in training camp is the linebacker group. With live contact, tackling, and more play diagnosis in the preseason, it is easier to develop a better scouting report. The main area to watch will be the battle for the final one or two roster spots at linebacker. Aside from Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Chad Greenway, and Emmanuel Lamur, there are no safe bets. Audie Cole will see plenty of action with Eric Kendricks out and the veteran doesn't look to be in danger. However, with rookie Kentrell Brothers and returning players Edmond Robinson and Brandon Watts in the room, anything is possible. Brothers is known for his tackling ability and it will be worth seeing how he holds up in live NFL action. Brandon Watts was injured and it is uncertain whether he will play in Cincinnati. He needs to get healthy because his roster spot is already hanging by a thread. Edmond Robinson wasn't spotted at the joint practices, so tonight will be a huge opportunity for Kentrell Brothers to see some extended action.
Monitoring the pass rush
The Vikings pass rush has been the big storyline coming out of the joint practices with Cincinnati. They have been dominating up front and with the amount of depth they have, this will hopefully be a reoccurring theme throughout the season. Danielle Hunter has been showing his polished pass rushing skills and will put them on display tonight. Players like Zach Moore and Justin Trattou will have a chance to bolster their resume against a Bengals offensive line unit that was one of the best in the league last season. In training camp, every portion of the defensive line looked debilitating and I want to see if that continues throughout the preseason.
Diamond-in-the-rough talents and fringe roster guys
There are several players on the roster to keep a close eye on. Particularly, some of the under-the-radar and fringe roster players. Up front, it is worth evaluating Jeremiah Sirles, T.J. Clemmings, Zac Kerin, Nick Easton, and Austin Shepherd. Sirles and Clemmings need to show they can handle the backup swing tackle position. In addition, Zac Kerin is a potential rotational interior offensive lineman who could snatch a roster spot. Nick Easton flashed during camp as a potential center for the future and will get his chance later in the second half. Finally, I want to see Austin Shepherd get some action at both guard and tackle. I think he has a higher ceiling than Willie Beavers, but will need the opportunity to show it in the preseason. The offensive line is an intriguing area for battles this preseason and these are the main names to watch closely.
Adam Thielen has been stealing all of the first-team reps in three wide receiver sets. Jarius Wright has been running with the second team. Tonight is the first time we will see how they handle Wright and Thielen in live action.
Willkommen in der NFL, Moritz Böhringer. The German sensation will make his NFL debut tonight. Böhringer has looked slightly behind the curve. Nonetheless, it will be intriguing to see how he handles live action against opposing players.
At running back, with Jhurell Pressley missing the joint practices, he probably won't play. In fact, it is uncertain if he even made the trip. C.J. Ham will see extended action during Pressley's absence. Ham is a powerful running back that flashed some good hands out of the backfield. He won't blow you away with his speed, but he is pretty skilled for a small school player.
Many of you have asked for a diamond-in-the-rough defensive lineman to keep a close eye on throughout the preseason. As camp progressed, defensive tackle Toby Johnson started to emerge. He was winning 1-on-1 battles against the offensive line and near the of camp, had a huge run stop in the backfield during team drills. I want to see if Johnson has any potential during the preseason.
If you have been reading any of my posts, you know I'm pretty excited about the position transition of cornerback Tre Roberson. He switched from quarterback to cornerback and has done it pretty flawlessly. His footwork and technique are pretty impressive for a player that just made the switch to defensive back. Tonight, he will get tested for the first time against an opponent in live action.
Cornerback Trae Waynes will get plenty of time to show how he has progressed in training camp. Terence Neman is out and Waynes needs to take advantage. Also, Mackensie Alexander will be making his NFL debut and can show how much he has grown over the first few weeks of his career.
Jayron Kearse has been one of the bright spots throughout training camp. In limited snaps, Kearse has been around the ball and making plays. He still sits on the third-tier of the depth chart, but will finally unleash the physicality he so badly wanted to display in training camp practices. Kearse needs to make a charge for a final 53-man roster spot in the preseason.
Troy Stoudermire hasn't provided much at wide receiver, but he will see a plethora of return reps tonight. This will especially be the case with Marcus Sherels out on family leave. Stoudermire has improved his return skills since joining the team and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said he was excited to see him play in the preseason.
Finally, Marken Michel is my last player to watch closely. Michel has speed and decent hands, but he needs to work on improving his route running to get open consistently. He flashed during the end of camp and might get some snaps later in the game.
Where can you watch the game?
In the Twin Cities market, the game kicks off at 6:30pm CT on Fox-9 out of Minneapolis, MN. Otherwise, you can tune into the radio for the broadcast on KFAN FM-100.3. If you live out of state, there is a 7-day free trial of NFL Preseason Live available on NFL.com.